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Bossing It: Shaping Growth and Development with Kate Howe

Bossing It 159 Add to collection

Kate Howe, executive director at MSQ, on taking a leap, the value of integrity and the importance of learning from others

Bossing It: Shaping Growth and Development with Kate Howe

Kate Howe, executive director at MSQ is responsible for shaping and implementing its growth strategy and developing its multidisciplinary proposition. She joined MSQ from Dentsu Aegis Network, where she led the network’s creative, customer experience and commerce agencies. She’s also spent time as the CEO and Chair of B2B agency gyro and was the chief marketing officer of Gala Coral Group. Kate’s on the Board of Trustees at Macmillan Cancer Support and Honorary Secretary of the IPA.


What was your first experience of leadership? 

Kate> My first significant leadership role was when I found myself seconded from my agency role at DMB&B to acting marketing director of my client Burger King UK. It came as a surprise. I think it was agreed and negotiated between their CEO and ours before I even knew about it, but it was an incredible opportunity. I joined the board and suddenly my clients were my peers and the previous CMOs team were now my team. Fortunately I had always got on well with them all and we’d worked well together so we carried on with our shared mission to increase sales, just working even more closely together. I loved every minute.


How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be? 

Kate> I think I always aspired to be the leader I would want for myself. And then I got lucky by being allocated an excellent executive coach who helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses and how to achieve my goals. I’m a strong believer in both coaching and mentoring for leaders of all levels. 

 

What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership? 

Kate> There have been a few but the biggest was perhaps when I stepped out of a pretty big role running EMEA for Draft FCB, which included global pitching, M&A, global clients and heaps of responsibility across 13 markets, to lead gyro London. gyro was then just 13 people in a B2B agency and I knew nothing about B2B. They say the best moves are when you scare yourself and I really did with that move. I had a vision of what I wanted to do but it was even harder than I had expected and I had to use every ounce of everything I had ever learned. I’ve never felt so energised or impassioned about my job (until now of course!) and once we gained momentum we had a great few years before selling to Dentsu.

 

Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you? 

Kate> I think I always knew if the opportunity arose I’d be up for it. I’ve never actively pursued promotions and indeed I have never ever moved job for the pay rise or promotion. I’ve always moved for the opportunity to do new things and I’ve always chosen people & businesses I like & am drawn to over anything else. I just always knew I wanted to build my career in agencies in London. My Dad had an agency in Windsor when I was growing up, so maybe it’s in my blood. 


When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned? 

Kate> I definitely think it’s a bit of both. Some people have no desire whatsoever to be the leaders of others and that’s just fine. But if you do find yourself in a leadership role then leadership development can make a huge difference – not just to how effective you are but to how much you enjoy it too. I never under-estimate how much I can learn from others – from a personal coach to following thought leaders to taking courses, reading books, attending seminars. Of course, the priority has to be to focus on your own work, but I do believe in being open to learning at all times, and to looking outwards to stay connected with the world around me and to make time to listen to and learn from others.  

 

What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them? 

Kate> My biggest personal value is integrity and I have come to learn, through coaching, that not everyone has integrity. I used to struggle really badly when I met someone in business who didn’t share my values but now I know how to screen for them and I’m more accepting of the reality that all sorts of different people can be successful and to look for other strengths in that person instead. 


Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it? 

Kate> One of my personality traits is to have a fairly high “fear of failure”, so I strive to avoid failure at all times! That said there are plenty of occasions where I can look back and think that if I knew then what I know now, I’d have done things differently. You have to be able to cope with failure in this business because you won’t win every pitch, some of your best staff will resign and leave at some point, your favourite boss will move on, you’ll get made redundant or fail to secure a promotion. These things will happen. I think failure is ok as long as you learn from it – but resilience is vital. 


In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered? 

Kate> My instincts have always been to be open and transparent – honesty is another key value of mine - but you do have to be thoughtful sometimes about what and how to share. Over the years I think I’ve accumulated the wisdom and confidence to be transparent in an effective way – for example it can be quite scary to share feedback with others when you’re first starting out as a leader and you need to learn how to do it well. I don’t think it’s just about being authentic as a leader but also about building trust among your team and helping them to be as effective as they can be too.


As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Kate> I’ve never actually formalised a mentor relationship but have been lucky enough to have a few great bosses over the years who I stayed in touch with and have been there to offer me great advice when I’ve needed it, so I think of them as my mentors and I’ll always be grateful to them. My first ever boss is still a friend today. I always say it’s important to be a “good leaver” because you just never know what’s around the corner or whose path you’ll cross again. I definitely strive to give back to the industry too. I’ve mentored a number of people over the years and I particularly like to mentor other women and see them succeed. 


It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters? 

Kate> Hasn’t it just?! After the first few weeks of Covid-19 it became clear this was going to be a marathon and not a sprint, so I geared myself for that. I’m fortunate enough to be a Trustee at Macmillan Cancer Care so I heard a lot about the views and experiences of the NHS and of central government which gave me an alternative perspective. I’ve always felt it’s important to genuinely care about your people and if you do genuinely care then it’s not so hard to lead a team in difficult times. People are pretty resilient at their core and if you take care of them then they’ll show up for you and give their best, which is all you can really ask for.

 

This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this? 

Kate> Not well enough I fear! This is so critically important and we’ve placed it at the top of our agenda for MSQ. We’ve made good progress both on DE&I & on Sustainability, but we need to do more, so we’ve set out a clear 10-point agenda for DE&I that we’re executing against, led by our Chairman because we do believe this has to be led from the very top. Our individual agencies are all doing great things, but as MSQ collectively we must do more and we will continue to prioritise it. 


How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020? 

Kate> Someone said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and they had a point. Culture matters enormously to us because it goes to the very heart of our business model. MSQ is Home to Joined Up Thinking – we bring people with deep expertise together in flexible agile teams to solve complex client problems quickly and efficiently. We couldn’t do that if a strong spirit of collaboration didn’t sit at the heart of our culture and if our senior people didn’t roll up their sleeves to be hands-on. Some of the things we’ve been doing to invest in our culture include holding regular (virtual) leadership conferences to bring people together, regular global all staff events, a Wednesday email every week celebrating our successes and sharing good stuff, and perhaps most important of all, a Friday email in which we celebrate the best pet photos from our staff around the world. What’s not to love about that?


What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Kate> My executive coaches over the years have been invaluable. Being a member of - and actively involved in - the IPA is immensely valuable. And having some very good bosses myself who’ve given me both opportunity and feedback – if I could only give one piece of advice, it would be to choose your boss wisely!


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MSQ Partners, Wed, 30 Jun 2021 08:41:00 GMT